That's how Civil Defence Minister Peeni Henare described the scenes that greeted him in Whangārei and his home town of Moerewa after two days of torrential rain.
Henare, who toured flood-hit areas yesterday as the clean-up got under way, said it was too soon to say how much financial assistance the Government would provide because local councils were still assessing the damage.
However, he suspected the help offered would be significant.
''It truly is heart-breaking. It will take a few days for the true impact to become clear, and to assess exactly what kind of support the Government will offer through local and regional councils.''
''Thinking on all levels'', was needed to come up with infrastructure to stop such events in future, Henare said.
''I grew up here, and it didn't flood this much when I was child. Now all of a sudden it happens quite regularly.''
Henare was accompanied by Tai Tokerau MP Kelvin Davis and Labour list MP Willow-Jean Prime - both from the Kawakawa and Moerewa area - plus a bevy of council and Civil Defence officials.
They were shown hard-hit Pembroke St, the flooded Otiria Rugby Club, and the Waiharakeke Stream a few kilometres west of Moerewa where locals believe the town's flooding problems arise. During heavy rain, instead of following a sharp bend in the stream, floodwaters go straight ahead down Otiria Rd and into the township.
Henare also checked in on some of his whānau in Moerewa, including his grandmother.
''They're all right. The people of Moerewa and Tai Tokerau are resilient and strong.''
On Friday night 65 stranded travellers spent the night at welfare centres in Kawakawa and Moerewa.
Five homes were evacuated due to flooding though the actual number who moved in with friends or family until the flood subsided is likely to be much higher.
It is not yet known how many homes are affected by contaminated water.
Far North District Council chief executive Shaun Clarke said 160 roads would need work to make then fully accessible and 86 would need significant slip repairs. Three bridges also needed fixing.
The repairs would cost about $2 million, he said. He hoped the NZ Transport Agency would help pay the bill.
Acting Far North Civil Defence controller Alastair Wells said an assessment of flooded properties would be completed by the end of Sunday, with work on an assistance package for affected residents due to start today.
No one had been ordered out of their home for health reasons but five families had self-evacuated after floodwaters went through their homes.
Until the water subsided it would not be possible to pump out flooded septic tanks. The 2014 storm affected the same areas and the same homes, though in most cases not as badly.
It was fortunate water was dropping quickly, Wells said.
''As long as we don't get any more significant rain we're now into clean-up and recovery.''
Northland Regional Council chief executive Malcolm Nicolson said a contract had already been let to carry out river work upstream of Turntable Hill bridge but had been delayed by Covid-19.
''But the big issue is diverting water away from the town. That's where we'll need central government help.''
Design work was already under way, Nicolson said.
Henare thanked everyone who made sure people who were stranded, or who lived in the area and were affected by the flood, received the support they needed.